"If I'm honest, I've been anti-Edinburgh for a long time. Everything about my rise as a comedian, especially in the UK, has not been atypical."
With over a decade in the game, and four tour shows under his belt, Aurie Styla is one of the UK's best comedians and given his longevity and success to date, it's almost unthinkable that he's never performed at the Edinburgh Fringe - except for two shows at a slimmed-down Fringe in 2021.
Hosting The Scene on BBC Radio London, a leading role in upcoming British comedy On The Other Foot and appearances on a number of television shows including Jonathan Ross' Comedy Club, Don't Hate the Playaz and The Stand Up Sketch Show are opportunities that many comedians feel they need to go to Edinburgh if they're to be offered them.
Increasingly, successful comedy careers are less dependent on the Edinburgh Fringe than they once were but there's still an appetite for comedians to give it a go, at whatever stage in their career they choose.
For Aurie, it's taken 12 years but that doesn't mean the job is any easier. Yes his material is oven-ready, but instead of the classic Fringe problem of not having enough material to fill an hour, Aurie is having to trim down a show that he's already toured - to critical acclaim - in order to make it fit the Edinburgh hour.
As a result of the global pandemic, the last couple of years have shown us a different perspective on life and for Aurie in his new show Green - it means looking at his own hilarious outlet and his way of dealing with change, and finally going Green (his real last name).
As Aurie is one of my 9 exciting newcomers to see at this year's festival, I caught up with him to discuss why he's left it so long before performing at the Fringe and so much more ahead of his debut run in Edinburgh.
How did you first get into comedy and what made you want to become a stand-up?
It's kind of the typical story with everybody. Everyone says "Oh, he was a bit of a class clown. He was funny... blah blah blah" - I think when you're in school, to get by in terms of popularity, you have to either be the attractive one or the funny one and I didn't really have a choice about the first.
So I fell into making the second one work for me and ever since young, I had a bit of a knack for making people around me, my friends and family, laugh.
I got into it when I was 22. I'd always been a fan of watching comedy and seeing someone have the ability to control a room and control a social environment by making people laugh and smile and enjoy themselves.
So it got to that point, and I thought, OK if that's what this is about, I'd like to watch it some more. I started watching DVDs, old comedy tapes from comedians of generations before and then at 22 I gave it a try.
I did my first gig 22nd March 2010 and never looked back.
When was it that you first became aware of Edinburgh? And why have you waited so long to debut an hour at the Fringe?
If I'm honest, I've been anti-Edinburgh for a long time. Everything about my rise as a comedian, especially in the UK, has not been atypical. That's because I started doing comedy on what would be considered to be, quote-unquote, the black circuit. Which at the time, was recognised amongst our own but to other people, it was the one-off show that you see get booked at Hackney Empire or Shepherd's Bush Empire or so on.
During that time, there was very much a one in, one out policy. On a line-up, you'd have one black comedian that'd be it. Or you'd have one female, and that it'd be it. Or you'll have one comedian that represents the LGBTQ+ community, and that'll be it.
I would hear about people talking about going to Edinburgh and around that time I was learning to put on my own shows. Learning to develop my own audience. I'd started to look at comedy and think, if I can develop my own audience then I can bring people to my own shows and put on my own tours etc., why do I need Edinburgh?
So I was very much anti it for a long time. Not because I didn't like it, but I just felt I didn't need to do it. Or if I did need to do it, I'd only do it at a point where I'd already developed my own audience before having to try and grab one amongst the mix of so many different acts that are going up there to try and find their way into the industry.
What made you decide to do Edinburgh this year then?
If I'm so brutally honest, last year we didn't have Edinburgh, they were asking if people would like to come up, just to do three or four days and as much as this is a job or a career, I don't do it for the money. There's no money going up to do it, but I did say - I've never been up there to see what it was like, I'd like to go and see what doing Edinburgh would be like. Even if it is a half-run Fringe due to the pandemic.
So I went up and did that, I had a taste of it, and I really enjoyed it. Just the whole "Can you run here?" and "Can you go over there?" and "Tonight you're going to be performing at that at 1.30 in the morning." - I'm very much a grafter, it's not a very good thing, I'm a workaholic which my therapist says I need to bring down a bit. But that for me, I was in my element.
Secondly, my manager would admit this - and so would I, to her, because I'm very honest - is so used to looking after her acts and saying "We're thinking of doing a tour. Where would you like to go?" - whereas I'm very much hands-on with everything that I do and the guy who goes "I'm thinking of doing a tour, I've booked my venue, I've got 14 dates, my team are ready. All I need to know from you, is are you OK with me doing this?".
Edinburgh for me is a great way now to bring what is already a tour which has been well established, has been toured around the UK and we've recorded it to release after Edinburgh as a free-to-watch special. It's a great way for me to shop it as a shopfront to the side of the industry I always said I didn't need to go and see.
If they do like what they see, and whatever comes from it, I'll be happy to see how that can develop and what can come from it. But if it doesn't, at least I can say to myself, I took it to Edinburgh. I saw if they liked it and I can't complain, because rather than going "I don't need Edinburgh" I can at least now say, "I tried it. And it just wasn't for me."
Some people's path has been that they've been able to get successful without having to go to Edinburgh, other people are in that middle range where they make a good living out of this - which is where I can say I am - and some others go to Edinburgh because they really want that exposure.
Whilst most people can find filling an hour a real challenge, I'm assuming you've got the opposite problem, in that you have to cut down your tour show to fit an Edinburgh hour?
I have, yeah. My tour show was an hour and twenty. It's been OK, cutting it short for me is more difficult than making it longer because any comic who's active is always writing and trying to build their material. Taking some of their bits, expanding it and squeezing everything they can out of that joke.
And I've been doing that with the tour but ensuring that the point I've tried to make with the tour, still comes across with all the filler that I've had removed.
It depends on who you are, but some people might sit there and feel like they wanted more, whilst other people, I'd like to think, thought that I gave them more than enough. It's trimming the fat at this point.
When you think about food, a lot of food that has fat in it, tastes really good, we're not trying to trim the fat - so I'm trying to get all the nutrition I can out of it without losing the taste and the value. But we have to make it lean.
What can people expect when they come to watch the show?
I'm quite quick-witted, charismatic and very loud and aggressive on stage because I'm a big burly black guy who's got a loud voice, but it's quite endearing. So it's a nice thing to watch from what I've heard and seen.
When I watch myself back, it's almost like your friend who's always full of energy, full of beans, loud, wild - but the content for this is a lot more meaningful than any other show that I've done.
How did you settle on Green as the title?
Green is my real surname, but there are many facets to the colour and the word that come up in the show, that relate to different things. For example, the main theme of the show is being a lot more aware of your mental health. I had a bit of a break in mine and I sought out therapy.
My aim is to normalise therapy. Even if you don't feel like you want to go and get it yourself, to not see therapy as a swear word or a heinous act, it's something that is very beneficial to me. To see other things that trigger you when it comes to life and what can. make you feel like you need to seek assistance and help.
Also, other ways that you can assess yourself. Look at what can lift you up and bring you up. I moved out of London to an area which is a lot quieter. I live in a village now. I get spoken about for being a very heavy-set London-based guy, moving to this village. Getting on top of my physical health has also been very important. Training has been good for my mind.
The main thing is paying attention to the effects that what has happened over the last few years has had on our mental health as well as the things that come from traumas from growing up. And the things you can do to stay on top of it.
But a hell of a lot more humorous than I've described! I don't want to give away of the humour, I want people to come and see how I make something that is quite serious, quite funny and also quite endearing.
What are you most looking forward to about Edinburgh this year?
This is going to sound weird that I say this, but managing the schedule that I've got and the exhaustion that can come through.
I love a challenge. I don't want to coast through this and go "It was a breeze. It was comfortable. It was nice." - I want to be able to go through this and ensure my hour is delivered really well whilst staying on top of my show every Friday, Aurie Styla and Friends and all the other shows that have been booked.
Also, keeping on top of my training, plus also managing my diet and all the meal preps I'm going to have to make whilst I'm up there as well. There's something about being able to manage all of that, that's more fulfilling than just coasting through.
It sounds weird, but looking forward to being able to work and manage the work that I've got to do up there is going to be a challenge and that's the thing I think I'm looking forward to the most.
What can we expect from Aurie Styla and Friends?
My main show is at the Pleasance, in the attic, but this is going to be once a week, every Friday, at the Monkey Barrel. It's basically me and my comedy friends who are also up in Edinburgh and I invite them to come and do a couple of sets.
I also plan on giving away prizes. Either a big bottle of rum or maybe even a Nintendo Switch, depending on where we're at. Every week we'll give away a prize to contestants from the audience.
The reason we're doing that is that I run my own comedy events around the country and rather than just going up to Edinburgh and showing people that I can do a good comedy set, it's also to show what Aurie Styla or my brand Comedy Mania does, which is bring great comedy nights - which aren't just straight stand-up from the typical there's a microphone and maybe stool comedians, but some of the more contemporary diverse comedians I've worked with in my 12 years of doing comedy.
The ones that are up there this year - and there are a hell of a lot more than ever before - in terms of the number of diverse comedians from different backgrounds, beliefs, walks of life etc. - if I can bring some of those onto the show, you get a whole round representation of what I've been doing for the last 12 years. Not just be a comedian, but also someone who puts on comedy shows.
Who are you looking forward to seeing?
That's a very good question. I had to ask myself, am I going to have the chance to see people? Mainly friends. Michael Akadiri is performing up there, he's doing a debut hour. I can't wait to see him. Me and him are good friends. He hasn't been doing comedy as long as I have, but the speed at how good he's gotten and the things he has to say about the industry he's a part of, offers I think, a really refreshing perspective.
Thanyia Moore. That's like my sister. The style of her show that she's doing this year, I don't want to give away too much, but the concept that she's doing is not gonna be your traditional concept of a show. And it's also not gonna be your "I'm trying to be edgy and contemporary". That's what makes this really sweet. It's so perfectly her.
For those that are going to see it, they're going to enjoy it and they're going to see her ability to do what she's going to do for this show, which only a handful of us as comedians can do. You're going to see her do something that's amazing and hopefully, people will highly appreciate just how talented she is.
Also, Katie Green. Another friend of mine. She's not doing a whole debut hour, but she won one of the slots for the Pleasance Comedy Reserve. I love Katie, she's like a sister so I'm looking forward to seeing her.
There are a few people. Vittorio Angelone I know as well is coming up. He's a grafter. Again, it's not so much the big names I want to see, it's the ones who I've seen work at their craft and work their ass off and be able to put themself in the position where people know them because of the work they've done - podcasts, work in progresses, content online. I'm an admirer of anybody who really puts their neck out and says "I'm going to work my arse off to get to a good position."
At this moment in time, how are you feeling?
So the show, I'm feeling cool. I've got to just do a couple of more work in progresses to tighten up the show - not in terms of the material but keeping it down to an hour. And making sure that it's tidy.
I'm feeling good. The only thing I'm thinking is, getting everything together and getting up there. I'm not boujee, but I didn't want to share with anyone. If there's one thing I don't want to do, is have to be doing comedy and then afterwards be around comedians non-stop when I want to switch off.
I love being in that environment, but the moment I want to switch off, my PlayStation is waiting for me, my movies are waiting for me. Going to the gym or going for a run, just switching off and relaxing.
You've done a few bits on telly including Jonathan Ross' Comedy Club, Don't Hate the Playaz and some stuff for Comedy Central, where do you see that side of your career going?
I do quite a bit of acting. I'm in two movies at the moment. One came out this year called On The Other Foot, which is available to stream wherever you can purchase movies. I like being in films.
TV's great. Being in TV shows and series and sitcoms is great, films are great, but I think because I've done so much in comedy for the past few years, not having a break from comedy but doing a lot more TV work which is consistent, that's what I'd like to focus on over the next few years.
Also, if I am going to do comedy, my aim was to go and do comedy in New York in 2020 but the world happened. I had flights and everything. So aside from doing TV work, I've saved up some money which I was going to use in 2020 to fly to different places and just pop up in various places doing open mics. I wanted to do it New York this year, didn't have the chance.
I went to Canada and did some comedy out there, I've done comedy in many places. I've been to Dubai to do comedy, but there are places that I haven't been that I want to fly to, to pop up in open mic spots and grab some more culture and experience.
But going back to your original question, there's a lot of TV work already in the pipeline.
Outside of the Fringe, what have you been working on? What's coming up?
I've just started a podcast called Aurie Styla's Respectfully..., it's comedy based but we do lean into talking about movies and video games that we like playing. We talk about topics from a very honest angle, but we keep things as respectful as we possibly can. In a world where people try to tread the line, we don't go over it, but we say "Respectfully" before anything we say that might be a bit tekky.
It's available on all platforms and features me, a friend of mine called Micky Mills who's my engineer, he's the voice off the camera and we get someone to be what we call the second host in every episode. So rather than interview them, we get them to be my co-host on camera. It's a great podcast and you check that out. That's out now.
Also, the Green show, the one I'm doing in Edinburgh, the reason I'm not streaming it yet, is because we've done the tour, it's in Edinburgh for a month and afterwards, it'll be available to watch free on YouTube. It's a really well-produced show. We recorded it at the Bush Hall in Shepherd's Bush, a really iconic music venue.
It was a sold-out show. And that'll be out later on this year, after Edinburgh, so for anyone who didn't get a chance to see it, that will be my way of putting it out to say thank you to anyone who's ever supported me,